Problems with the offensive line? New coach Mike Munchak carries 280-ish pounds on his frame and 280 tons of experience in his saddle. New feature running back? Bring in a new coach. James Saxon has worked with the best the game has seen at the position in the last decade. He can teach Le'Veon Bell a thing or two.
The Steelers offense was averaging 28 points a game over the second half of a season that saw them win six of eight games and come a foot and a lazy official from making the playoffs. There were certainly complaints in regards to Todd Haley's unit (and Haley himself) over the first half of the season. Many of those issues (except the ones with Haley himself, of course) faded away over November and December, as the Steelers provided something unseen over the last few years - actual offensive production in the teen weeks.
So...perhaps it's time to acknowledge the Black and Gold elephant on the South Side - a defense that gets absolutely savaged by Tribune-Review columnist Joe Starkey in Wednesday's edition.
Starkey refers to the Steelers defense as the "Stained Curtain," and it's hard to argue. He points out damning statistics sure to dampen the enthusiasm of any fan:
After leading the NFL with 48 sacks in 2010, the Steelers slipped to 17th, 15th and finally 25th.
• After finishing fifth in interceptions with 21, they have totaled 31 in three seasons.
• After finishing tied for fifth with 14 fumble recoveries in 2010, they have not finished above 15th.
• Their once-impenetrable rush defense plummetedto 21st in the league in 2013. It couldn't even keep up with Ryan Tannehill.
Is there a Munchak-like move that can be made on this defense? Who's their rock of experience, a la Saxon's time with Adrian Peterson?
The argument can be made the issue on offense was coaching - it explains how and why the team went from dismal offensive production over the last season and a half to something that dares to whisper the phrase "top 10." Maybe they have had the horses on offense, it just took some time for it to come together.
Can the same argument be made on the defensive side of the ball?
If Jarvis Jones is an example of the refurbishing of the defensive landscape, it'll be tough to expect impact coming from the draft. There were 29 rookies in the NFL who had more than Jones' lone sack this year - physically looking far more like Seabiscuit than Secretariat. But with salary cap money only likely to be spent on retaining certain players (and eliminating others), the Steelers must lean on internal development and rookies who not only see the field, but make an impact while they're on it - unlike 2013's triumvirate of mediocrity - Jones, Shamarko Thomas and Vince Williams.
There's plenty to shred, but it doesn't mean it can't be rebuilt. Whether it's coaching moves or just simply getting players like Jones in the weight room and into a high-carb buffet like on a daily basis, the focus from now until the start of training camp needs to be on the defensive side of the ball.
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